While Victoria, B.C.’s, Langford Speedway officially opened in 1936 its construction came from the formation of the B.C. Automotive Sports Association (BCASA) in 1934. The BCASA’s first president was Jack Smith, a transplanted Albertan who raced in the 1920s at both Vancouver’s Hastings Park and Victoria’s Willows half-mile horse tracks, and he would be a constant figure in the development of the speedway, its cars and its drivers. Early on he was being called the “father of racing in Victoria.”
After holding races at Nanaimo’s Maxey Field (5/8ths mile dirt oval), The Willows and the Colwood mile horse track it was the building of the Langford track (Langford is about 8 miles north of Victoria on the old Island Highway) that began to put Victoria racers on the map.
The first race was June 6, 1936 on what was called a dirt oval. Driver, builder, one of the founding members of the BCASA, and correspondant to the National Speed Sport News, Johnny Wright wrote about the opening day a few years after Langford Speedway had closed:
“Langford Speedway was built in 1936 on property owned by a racing enthusiast, Jack Taylor. Taylor, with the help of the club members, cleared the land and scratched a 3/8ths mile track out of the rough raw earth. Clay was hauled and gallons of old crank case all was poured into the recipe and there was the track, loose as a goose and with millions of big rocks just waiting to be tossed up by the flying wheels. To make the plant perfect a set of bleachers was erected, and a board fence wrapped around the deal, all ready for the grand opening. On opening day all the city big wigs were invited, and with their ladies fair all dressed in spotless white, they were given preference of ring side seats. Well the results were self-explanatory as the field included from Washington, and elsewhere, Johnny McDowell with a DO Dreyer, Jimmy Wilburn with an SO HAL, Adoph Dans in an SO McDowell, Dave Dippolito had a Riley, Ernie Spalding a Ford V-8 and Yam Setterman with his Schofield. Needless to say the local dry cleaners had a bumper week and before too long the track was paved.”
Seattle’s Dave “Wildman” Dippolito won the opening day’s 20-lap feature, shortened due to the corners softening up. He finished ahead of Wilburn who had been the 1935 northwest champion and who would go on to win so many races in southern California and the U.S. mid-west that his nickname would become “Ho-Hum” as if winning was boring to all concerned, including himself. Johnny McDowell, who would start in the Indianapolis 500 four times, was in Glen Shaw’s Seattle-based car and set the track record at 22 1/5 seconds in front of 1500-2000 fans.
Local drivers included Fritz Miller in the Jack Smith and Ed Allen built car, Bill Pearson in Lloyd Vaio’s car, and Bert Sutton in his own car.
The second event held July 1st, was much like the first. The Victoria Times said “spectators bowed their heads under a rain of mud and dust.” Dippolito again won the feature, this time in the Glen Shaw Dreyer. Fritz Miller was second. Time for the 10-lap even was 4 minutes 17 2-5 seconds, an average of under 25 seconds a lap. Fritz Miller won a trophy from the BCASA for doing a qualifying lap in 24.32 seconds, his time comparable to the times of the U.S. drivers.
By the end of the summer managing director of the track, Jack Taylor, announced that Langford Speedways Limited had been formed with capital estimated at $15,000 and the track would be “hard-surfaced” in the near future.
With that task completed for 1937 twice as many races were held and speeds increased. The ads in the Colonist and Times announced “international auto races” with five American and seven local drivers scheduled. By the end of the season the track record was down to 20 seconds for the 3/8ths mile, set by Seattle’s Jimmy Seim in a 220 cubic inch rocker arm conversion. It was equalled at the last race that season by Bert Sutton in the Jack Smith Special.
While the U.S. cars won the Victoria lads made their presence felt. Jimmie Logie, Buddy Green, Bill Pearson, Ron Mayell, Sutton, Bob Wensley, Lloyd Vaio and Art Leason all raced that year. Along with Jack Smith’s car, Phil Foster and Jimmy Laird had built competitive machines.
1938 and 39 saw the track come into full bloom. Eleven race dates were held in 1938 and fifteen in 1939. The track record was lowered to 18 seconds, again by Jimmy Seim, by the end of 1939. Some of the better drivers in the northwest were making regular appearances at the track, loading their racers on the ferry in Seattle only to be met by the Victoria enthusiasts at the CPR dock to tow the cars to the track.
Drivers like Swede Lindskog, Woody Woodford, Jack Spalding, Bert Bloomgren, Chick Barbo, Lew McMurtry, Seim, Claude Walling, Wes Moore and Wally Schock all came to the track winning either Helmet Dashes or Feature events. Lindskog won ten features in those two years and created a legend that had him never losing a race at Langford which wasn’t quite true but was printed as fact when he lost his life in 1946.
One race Lindskog didn’t win was the first win for a local driver in the international competition. Bert Sutton in the Silver Streak Special of Jack Smith beat Lindskog, Jimmy Wilkinson, Chick Barbo and Jack Spalding. It was Dominion Day, 1938, and maybe it was a bit of a gift but the crowd jumped the fence to congratulate their hero.
One frightening incident occurred in 1938. Early in the season Buddy Green rolled his car over twice on the front straight during the feature. He was loaded into a car and taken to hospital where he regained conciousness but had injured himself enough to not race again until late in the season. A positive outcome was that late in August Jack Taylor donated an ambulance to the St. John Ambulance brigade for all the good they had been doing. The ambulance was used on regular occasions at Langford Speedway and both locals and visitors would make use of it due to their spirited racing.
One interesting character that showed up with his car but couldn’t race due to mechanical problems was Rajo Jack. Being one of the few black drivers of the era made him a novelty but his 255 Offy might have over powered the track as Wally Schock’s initial attempts had proven. Schock brought a car more suited to the tight, slick track and did much better. Rajo Jack only made the one appearance at Langford.
The end of the 1939 season was the beginning of the Second World War. The 1940 and 41 seasons saw racing curtailed to ten races in 1940 and six in 1941. The U.S. hadn’t yet entered the war so cars were still coming north and if the local boys hadn’t been assigned posts outside of Victoria they continued racing. Americans like Les Anderson (who would start two Indianapolis 500s after the war) and Bill Gehler were new feature winners from the south. Jack Spalding relocated from the U.S. to Canada and would become a legendary figure. Other locals like Jerry Vantreight and Digger Caldwell gained speed and were poised for better things.
Unfortunately the war put everything on hiatus. Bert Sutton, who had taken ill as the war begain, lost his life in 1944 from tuberculosis. Others served. Jack Smith was in a world war for the second time. Pike Green followed his brother Bud south, as their father had been an American, and served in the U.S. military. Johnny Wright was stationed in various Canadian locations and began writing for the National Speed Sport News about Langford. That continued when the war ended and racing resumed.
Johnny let the racing community know that, “Saturday, January 26th (1946) marked the date of the first car to run on the track since it closed down for the war.” Pike Green was the driver of the car Bud had driven to the BCASA title in 1941. Pike had been too young to race before the war but had been a “pit rat” helping anyone who would let him. Now he was more than ready to go.
That first season back had eleven races and it was Jack “Digger” Caldwell who dominated winning all but three of the feature events. The Green brothers won the others, Bud with one and Pike with two. Digger took the points title in what was now called the Bert Sutton Memorial trophy with Pike second. Pike’s rookie driving improved to the point that on the night of the 50-lap championship race he eked out a close win over Digger only to end up in the fence but quite happy.
The next two seasons, 1947 and 1948, were spectacular for the number of cars entered and races run. Seventeen races were held in 1947 and twenty in 1948. The track record of 18 seconds from before the war had been equalled in 1946 by Digger Caldwell but by the end of 1948 it was down to 17.50 seconds, set by U.S. driver Don Olds.
More Americans were making the regular ferry trip to Langford because the big crowds were making the purse worth racing for. That, combined with the increasing number of local cars, made it necessary to run a “B” feature as well as the 30 or 40 lap “A” feature. Pike Green had relocated to the U.S., returning by air (he had his pilot’s licence by then), to Victoria. He often drove cars from the U.S. but a special machine was being built for him in Victoria by mechanic John Dalby.
Dalby had been another one of the originals of the BCASA and had worked on various cars at the Speedway before the war. The 2-port Riley he debuted part way through the 1947 season was special in a few ways. It had inboard brakes instead of the hand lever used on most other cars. The clutch was the lever. And the car was the inspiration for a young high school lad, Grant King, to build his first race car for the 1948 season.
The story has it that Grant was hanging around the Dalby car taking measurements when Pike asked, “what the hell is he doing?” Dalby’s response was that, “the crazy kid thinks he’s going to build a race car.” Grant King did build that race car and many after that, going all the way to Indianapolis in 1964 and staying there for the rest of his career as a mechanic. One year he had three entries start the 500. In 1948 his driver, the popular Bung Eng, won a feature at Langford with the new King car.
Another car for the 1947 season was built by Jack Smith. It was a rear-engined machine with four wheel independent suspension. It attracted the attention of the newspapers and those in the pits. For Smith it was more of an experiment to see if the ideas that Ferdinand Porsche had put in the Auto Union would work on a short track like Langford. Even with a rookie driver, Howard Stanley, the car worked and, because of the UFO phenomena occurring around the same time it was nicknamed “the flying saucer” by everyone.
Pike Green almost won two 50-lap championship races in a row but slowed due to overheating the Dalby car in 1947. Digger Caldwell took that main and retained the points title. Caldwell also held onto the Jimmy Laird trophy for most wins in the Helmet Dash for the season. Others to win feature races in 1947 included Jack Spalding, Jerry Vantreight, Pike, George Haslam and Dave Cooper. Cooper co-owned his car with BCASA president Eric Foster. Eric’s young son Billy could be found at the races and would, in future years, go on to make a racing name for himself.
Digger Caldwell couldn’t hang onto the Bert Sutton Memorial trophy for 1948. That went to Jack Spalding. His nickname from the before the war was “the little man with the big cigar” because he raced with a cigar in his mouth, like Barney Oldfield from a previous era.
Jack Spalding would hold onto the title in 1949 as well. His brother Ernie, who had been at the opening day of Langford Speedway in 1936, came north winning a number of features and lowering the track record to 17.31 seconds. Ernie won more races than Jack, but because he was based out of the Seattle area unlike his brother who was based in Vancouver, BC, Ernie was not eligible for points toward the BCASA title. Ernie’s son, Cliff, also raced at Langford and would go onto run USAC midgets many times.
Others to capture one or more of the eighteen feature events in 1949 included Vern Bruce, Digger Caldwell, and Seattle’s Del Fanning and Don Olds.
The Vern Bruce car that 1949 season was the second rear-engined Jack Smith creation. It was owned by Bruce Passmore who had taken over ownership of Langford Speedway after the war and was having great success with it and his “house” cars, whether they were front or rear engined. Passmore would eventually go on to own a car dealership that imported Volkswagens, another of those Ferdinand Porsche creations that interested Jack Smith.
Langford Speedway had been built next to some school property and at the end of the 1950 season the track would be sold to the school board to allow for expansion of the school. The last season had eleven big car events plus two nights for the newly formed travelling show of the Washington Hardtops.
While Dave Cooper won the most main events that year it was “Brownie” Brown who took the points title. Others to win features were Jack Spalding, Del Fanning, Ernie Spalding, Bob Simpson, Brown and Ed Kostenuk. Bob Simpson also had a pretty bad wreck which sent him to hospital. During the ensuing years he would team up with Grant King and the pair would prove to be a powerful team in the Pacific northwest. Ed Kostenuk, who raced John Dalby’s car, would continue on into the 1960s eventually attempting to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 in 1962 and 1963.
One interesting note for that season was the seizure of “slick tires” by customs officials over alledged non-payment of duty.
Langford Speedway did not return to action ever again, and it wasn’t until 1954 that the Victoria area would have another track – Western Speedway. In the intervening time a track north towards Duncan, BC, near Cobble Hill, called Shearing Speedway was built and helped keep the interest up in the racing community. During the final season at Langford crowds of 3000 were not uncommon. The track record ultimately was 17.11 seconds by Del Fanning.
Over the years the track and its fans saw the usual thrills and spills. There was one fatality. A spectator, Mrs. Edra Mulder, was hit in the grandstands by a wheel that came off one of the cars. No drivers lost their lives inspite of some spectacular crashes.
The track, the brainchild of the BCASA, helped develop the driving skills of those local drivers who competed against some of the better racers from the Pacific Northwest and they became as good as those racers. In an economic time when racing was probably more unaffordable than at any other time well over a hundred different drivers and their cars, with over half of them from Vancouver Island, competed. Langford Speedway was the building block for the next generation of drivers to move up and away from the Victoria area to race, and be successful, but those racers always seemed to hold onto that connection with Victoria.
1950 saw the beginning of a new club aimed at keeping the younger lads involved, the Vancouver Island Track Roadster Association (VITRA). That club would last for many decades. Its first president? The same as the first president of the BCASA, Jack Smith, “the father of racing in Victoria.”
Langford champions, BCASA sanction:
1936 – Bill Pearson (championship trophy)
1937 – Bert Sutton
1938 – Bert Sutton (Burdie’s Café Cup)
1939 – Bert Sutton (not sure if this is correct)
1940 – Bud Green
1941 – Bud Green
1946 – Digger Caldwell (Bert Sutton Memorial Trophy)
1947 – Digger Caldwell
1948 – Jack Spalding
1949 – Jack Spalding
1950 – Brownie Brown
Photo gallery at the Langford Speedway track database entry.
sources: Victoria Daily Colonist
Victoria Daily Times
National Speed Sport News
photo collections of Pike Green, John Dalby, Don Clay, Lew McMurtry and Johnny Wright and Jack Frumento.
Photos from after the Second World War were taken by Chuck Hobson.